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Pinellas County molds 2016 legislative program into final form

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Pinellas County’s formal stance on this season’s state and federal legislative issues have been set.

Late last week, at the first of two September regular meetings, county commissioners adopted their 2016 legislative program. The program’s accompanying document was laid out as a briefly explained list of supported priorities, eight of which were federal issues and 33 were state issues.

Of the seven county commissioners, at least four must agree to support any particular issue in order for it to be included on the county’s yearly legislative program.

Pinellas’ Commission is currently Democrat-heavy, with Commissioners Charlie Justice, Pat Gerard, Ken Welch, and Janet Long all belonging to the dominant party, while Commissioners Dave Eggers, Karen Seel and John Morroni are in the Republican minority.

State Program Highlights

Perhaps unsurprisingly, healthcare-related issues took up the most space on the county’s state legislative program.

Efforts to expand healthcare in Florida, by drawing down federal resources to expand Medicaid eligibility, is something the Commission is in favor of. It’s also in support of incentivizing participation in Medicaid for the dental community.

The county’s in favor of legislation that would create a “high prescriber database” as well. The ideal scenario would require physicians to enter information into a state-monitored database rather than leaving it as a voluntary program, in order to help better treat and monitor patients, should they bounce from hospital to hospital.

A more lax process by which to retain funding for the county’s homeless is another issue Commission likes. It’s in support of legislation that would create a steady source of state funding for homelessness issues that’s not subject to an annual appropriations process.

Sticking with healthcare funding issues, the county still likes the idea of its citizens using federally regulated low-income pool (LIP) money to help pay for healthcare. The LIP is a funding pool that supports healthcare providers who supply uncompensated care to uninsured or underinsured Florida residents.

The county’s also into Medicaid managed care, an arrangement between a state’s Medicaid agency and managed-care organizations (MCOs) that allows a fee to be paid to a healthcare provider based on the number of individuals the provider assists. As is written into the county’s 2016 legislative program, Commission “support[s] continued efforts to work through Medicaid reform initiatives to ensure timely and full payment cycles for providers.”

Additionally, the Commission supports legislation establishing a “High Impact Veteran County” that will allocate state funds to hire Veterans Service Officers in order to increase services and federal benefits for Florida veterans.

No surprise here — the Commission doesn’t like the idea of backyard gun ranges, so it’s in support of legislation that will close the backyard gun range loophole and allow local law enforcement to prosecute individuals who “dangerously” discharge firearms.

Beach nourishment is another priority of the Commission, as it collectively approves the continuation and increase of funding for beach nourishment projects.

The majority of county commissioners like the idea of simplifying the building permit process in Pinellas as well, as the Commission’s now on record as being in favor of legislation that allows homeowners acting as their own contractors to pull online permits for additional projects, instead of having to appear in person.

Switching to the topic of defense contractor incentives, Pinellas County is saying yes to legislation that makes incentives for defense contractors an outright reward. As things stand now, state dollars may offset federal incentives.

On a somewhat related issue, the county would also like to get some of its money back from the Department of Juvenile Justice, which, due to some seemingly simple paperwork mistake, has over-billed the county by $8 million over the past decade, and over-billed the state by more than $130 million.

One of the few things the Pinellas County Commission opposed on its 2016 state legislative program was allowing money from the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund to be used for any other purpose than housing. The fund came together in 1991 in order to obtain a dedicated revenue source for Florida’s affordable housing programs.

Here are some further issues the county’s not in support of: pre-emptions of fertilizer ordinances, high prescriber moratoriums, fireworks restrictions, vehicle for hire regulations, and the authority to levy a local business tax.

Federal Program Highlights

The Commission’s federal priority list included opposing any offshore drilling, supporting long-term funding for county transportation needs, and monitoring the implementation of the WOTUS, or clean water rule, and its impact on county operations.

The county will also be keeping an eye on FEMA’s implementation of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, while supporting legislative action, policies and programs that ensure all property owners are able to receive affordable flood insurance.

Another federal issue the county’s getting behind is the Marketplace Fairness Act, which deals with Internet sales taxes. The Marketplace Fairness Act would authorize the state to compel remote sellers to collect sales tax at the time of a transaction.

Beach nourishment was also made a federal priority issue for Pinellas, perhaps unsurprisingly, as the county’s beaches are one of the local economy’s greatest boons.

Commission will be monitoring the implementation of WRRDA, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, to “ensure continuous authorization for Pinellas County beach nourishment projects.” And it’ll be supporting the approval of funding for the construction of erosion-control structures, like permanent rock jetties that reduce nourishment frequency requirements on highly erosive beaches.

For the complete list of the Pinellas County Commission’s 2016 legislative program, visit pinellascounty.org.

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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